- Wade Henry

Traveling around the country and delivering entertainment to fairs, I keep a watchful eye on the successful actions of Fair Managers. Sometimes I see something that is so compelling and useful, I have an immediate urge to write about it for the benefit of other fairs.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been very fortunate to be involved with the Wilson County Fair in Lebanon, TN.

If you don’t know about the Wilson County Fair, I want to let you in on what they’re about. This fair is quite legendary and is very well known in Tennessee and beyond.

There are many amazing things about the Wilson County Fair that are the envy of other county fairs.

However, there is one thing that really stands out: this year they had an attendance of over 528,000 fairgoers.

This may not seem like a big deal to some people…until you consider that the town of Lebanon itself has only 26,000 people living in it. And the entire county has a population of around 114,000.

Since 1999, the Wilson County Fair has been the largest Fair in Tennessee. It consistently draws more people than many of the country’s State Fairs – some of which also have a longer run.


Now, that is success. The next time someone says to you, "We can’t get our attendance numbers up any higher because there aren’t even any more people than this living in the county", remember the Wilson County Fair in Tennessee. They get their numbers even when they need to pull the people in from out-of-state.  And they do!

It takes a lot to run a successful fair, as we well know. Every fair has its stellar aspects that the rest of us can learn from.

Is there something we can learn from the Wilson County Fair?

You bet.

I well remember the first year I brought my show to Wilson County. I approached the office, as I always do when I arrive at a fair, to make contact with the president, Hale Moss, who had booked my act.

On the wall next to the entrance to the front office was a chart. The chart had attendance statistics for the previous 3 days and also attendance numbers for the previous 10 years of the fair.

Those Attendance Stats were being posted for the entire world to see.

And they were being updated each day of the Fair – while it was going on.

When I went inside to meet with Hale, I noticed a large stack of printouts on the counter. "Go ahead and take one," said the receptionist in a warm, inviting way. It was the same chart giving attendance numbers. They were printing the "Attendance Stats" onto a flier each day and distributing them around to people. All the vendors and commercial exhibitors were also getting a copy.

Evidently, they have been doing this as a standard daily action for years.

Later, in between my performances, I had a chance to meet and speak to some of the commercial vendors and volunteers. They knew what those daily attendance numbers were! In other words, they knew what the score was in the game they were playing. And so they had an interest in their own role in the game. They suddenly had an interest in the overall success of their fair.

During the last few days of the fair, there was a real buzz in the air. I heard many people discussing whether or not "we’ll beat last year’s attendance record". People were excited about it. It seemed that everyone wanted to do whatever possible to get those stats up!


More recently, I had a chance to sit down with my friend Hale Moss and discuss some of this with him.

"How many people does it take to run all this?" I asked.

"We have X directors and Y additional volunteers for a total of Z people who make things happen", he answered immediately - without even thinking.

Wow, I thought, this guy knows his numbers! Not only does he know his "Attendance Stats", but he also knows his "Volunteer Stats" and he’s just ready to rattle them off whenever he needs them! And boy does he let people know!


A Fair Manager would do well to list out a half dozen of the primary Statistics for his fair. These are the ongoing measurements that signify improvements or deteriorations. The thing is to choose the ones which best describe the results he wants to attain.

Obvious possibilities for fair stats would be Attendance, Volunteer Participation, Gross Revenue from Commercial Exhibit Rentals, % of Commercial Space Rented, Gross Revenue from Carnival Rides, Gross Sponsorship Revenue, Gross Livestock Auction Sales, # of 4H Exhibit Entries and # of Livestock Show Entries. For entertainment, a measurement could be taken on "How Many People Were Entertained by Shows." And, of course, "Grandstand Ticket Sales" would be an important stat.


Just about any sector of a Fair could be measured.

Once a set method of Statistics is established, a manager can look for trends over time. He would compare a current statistic with the previous period. For example, after recording several years of attendance, it might be noticed that attendance is trending downward. Voila! The problem is exposed and published plainly on a graph for all to see - and the group gains an interest in reversing the trend.

Of course, different managers and directors would have an interest in different statistics. The president of a fair may have a primary interest in "Overall Attendance" and also "Solvency". An Entertainment Director might track "Grandstand Attendance" for each event which is put on in the grandstand. He may also be interested in "Estimated Audience Size per Grounds Act". The director of the 4H Program may have as a stat "Total number of 4H Exhibit Entries". And so it goes.

To improve the fair, each particular director is looking to improve his own statistic….which in turn contributes to the overall health and success of the fair.

In well-functioning organizations of high morale, people holding the various posts of the organization have a measurement for their success. And they are happy to have the measurement. It gives them a game.

Ever see enthusiastic, youthful kids put together a game in the park? Whether it’s baseball, hockey, football or basketball, they’ll always make sure there’s a score being kept. It keeps up the interest. It gives them a challenge. It helps them play the game. Indeed, it’s part of what makes it a game.

Games always have a scorecard. That’s how you tell if you’re winning.

Beyond this, there are many other benefits to establishing a system of statistics for your operation which are communicated to everyone. Stats can be used to reward or motivate people. Example: "If we make 100,000 in attendance, we’re having a pig roast with live music for all staff and volunteers". Stats can be used to back up your decisions and actions as a manager. Example: "We had good reason to promote him…look at these numbers!" or "Perhaps you would like to try working in another department? These numbers indicate a need for change!"

Statistics can also be used for legal defense. They can be used to demonstrate the sanity of your actions. Or perhaps to help gain support for your programs. Example: "Hey, Mr. Corporate Sponsor….this grounds act will reach around 6,000 people through the run of the fair. They’ll all be looking at your signage for 30 minutes while the act goes on. How ‘bout upgrading your sponsorship level and help bring in a grounds act this year for the community?"

Of course, stats and numbers aren’t the "be-all-end-all" of running a Fair. But they certainly are a management tool, which – when used properly – can be extremely useful in helping to achieve our aims.

Once you have the numbers, they can be used in many beneficial ways.

Just ask Hale Moss at the Wilson County Fair!

                                             Handling Non-Producers

One of the major problems I’ve seen in the Fair Industry is "…how to handle non-producers?" Like any organization, there may be a minority few who don’t really contribute very much of value to the whole enterprise. You know the type – the complainers who never do anything to help the situation they’re complaining about. There are, of course, people who seem to have joined up for a free lunch or some other purpose than to create a successful fair.

In a private business enterprise, such people can simply be fired. Yet, in the Fair Industry, the person may be a "Volunteer". One Fair Manager said to me, "How can I fire a Volunteer?!?" Yet sometimes, on rare occasions, you may find that you have a "Volunteer" who isn’t really being a volunteer at all. He’s not contributing anything. He’s bringing the group down. What to do?

Well, how would you like to be a baseball player and see your .005 batting average (5 hits out of 1,000 tries) up on the lighted scoreboard for all the fans and players to see – game after game after game? Pretty soon, you’d probably take yourself out of the game. You may just decide there are better games to play.

Or perhaps you’d pursue some batting practice.

In other words, if you can’t fire a guy whose laziness, incompetency and/or negative influence is detrimental to the group, you can always assign a personal production statistic to him. If he can’t raise a low stat, he just may shame himself into leaving voluntarily. Or switching to a more suitable position.

                                                            Public Relations

And for sure, a meaningful Stat System can be used to enhance what you’re already doing successfully. Those numbers can be used in Public Relations to help promote the event. Example: "With over 60,000 in attendance last year, it was the biggest event in the County". (Even if you’re running a small fair of 15,000 people, it always sounds big to the general public when you start using numbers in the thousands.)

And over time, the trends in those stats are what will tell you if you are improving or declining.

                                                      A Vehicle Without Gauges

There’s an old story of the man who saved and saved to buy his dream car – a brand new Rolls Royce.

When he finally bought the car, he told the salesman at the dealership that he had a special request regarding one of the "accessories".

"Oh?"’ the salesman asked, "What kind of request? I’ll try to serve you as best as I can."

"Well," said the man, "I’m not big on the extra stuff on the dashboard. Could you take off that fancy compass that’s mounted there? I really don’t need it."

The salesman, who was in a rush to meet another prospect, thought the sale was done and felt perturbed by the request. The client picked up on it and decided to make a point.

"And see that tachometer", said the customer haughtily; "I’ve never paid attention to the RPMs of the engine, anyway. You can take that off, too."

The salesman thought that was strange. But he complied and had the tachometer removed, wanting to satisfy the customer’s wishes.

"Another thing", the man said, "with regard to the speedometer….. I don’t really drive too fast anyway, so I don’t need to know my speed."

"OK", the salesman said.

"….And might as well remove the gas gauge and the voltmeter too. I always fill the tank before it gets low, anyway."

The salesman had the service department strip the car of these unwanted items. The man drove off the lot and then returned 15 minutes later.

"Sorry to bother you again", he said, "but I’d really like it if you also removed the odometer. And the heat gauge can go, as well."

The salesman complied.

And off the man drove into the great unknown. Blind as a bat with no knowledge of his speed or where he was going or how far he had gone. Not ever knowing what kind of shape his car was in or how well he was driving it.

Eventually, the only direction he could roll was downhill.

And so he returned on foot to the dealership the following week to re-purchase all his gauges, which the salesman sold to him with a smile!


Wade Henry
Wade Henry has been performing his act at Fairs across the U.S. & Canada for over 20 years.    He specializes in Stage Shows, Street Performances and Strolling Entertainment.   He has delivered over 10,000 shows throughout his career at hundreds of Fairs, Festivals and Exhibitions.